Somehow, it happened again.
Once more, impossibly, this year’s crop of submissions for Island Theatre’s Ten-Minute Play Festival were both better than ever and consisted of a wide array of tones and subjects.
It shouldn’t be possible, said festival manager and group co-founder Steve Stolee. And yet…
“It gets better every year,” he said.
“I think the play quality goes up a little bit — and I don’t really know how to explain that. In the first three or four years it was striking because absolutely every year it was like, ‘Wow, these are so much better than last year!’”
The trend has continued, he said, and with the ever-improving quality of the work being submitted, so too has the group’s ability to stage them grown more professional.
“We’ve learned a lot going through the process every year and every year we analyze what we did and try to figure out what we could do better and get rid of what didn’t seem to work out very well,” Stolee said.
Again this year, submissions differed widely in tone and subject.
“They’re really widely varied,” Stolee said. “We get a pretty even mix of comedy and drama and in between so that we never have much trouble figuring out how to make a program out of it.
“We’ve got some politics. We’ve got some kind of silly sketch comedy. We’ve got some historical reference comedy. We’ve got lots of couples, relationship stuff, both serious and not. It’s a nice, wide gamut.”
The varied selections were chosen, once again, through a blind juried process.
“Nobody knows who wrote the plays until we finally select the plays and then we uncover [the names],” Stolee said. “We always have three theater professionals be judges. They do all the initial readings, they read all the plays, and then they select their top ones in order of what they think are the best plays. There’s a whole list of criteria that they follow to do that, plus their own experience.”
Authors are allowed to submit more than one play, but only one piece by a playwright can be included in the final lineup.
“If a couple of plays by the same author goes to the top of the qualifications list we have to make a choice,” Stolee said. “That happens every once in a while.”
The other thing that occasionally happens, and has again this year, is the inclusion of first-time playwrights.
Jennifer Pippin-Montanez and Robert Craighead are both familiar faces from island stages but newbies to the work of writing. Both have a play featured in this year’s festival.
Pippin-Montanez wrote “Best Defense” and Craighead’s piece is titled “The Rose Bowl.”
“I think both of them are first-time playwrights,” Stolee said. “She wrote a serious piece, and it has to do with her background as a teacher. It’s about bullying and it’s about current conversations about gun violence, written in a very subtle way, I think. It’s deeply insightful.
“Robert’s is just a hoot and half,” he added. “It’s about two couples trying to decide whether they’re going to watch ‘The Bachelor’ on TV or the football game. It’s goofball humor, but it’s almost a farce, I guess you’d say.”
The other plays in this year’s line up are “Alexa” by Jeff Fraga; “Dancing with Orion” by Diane Walker; “Devolution” by Connie J. Bennett; “Hijab” by Catherine Rush; “The Lady from Out of the Past” by Maria Viera Beatty; “Let Me Finish (One Last Chance)” by Dan Rosenberg; “The Raven in the Woods” by Tamarah Rockwood; and “Trans-Matters” by Eve Palay.
Directors for this year’s plays are Stolee himself, Scott Breitbarth, Jeff Brown, Hanna Eady, Karen Hauser, Jennifer Hodges, D’Arcy Clements, Kristi Jacobsen, Ryan O’Donnell, and Fred Saas.
This year’s cast includes Jim Alexander, Libby Clements, Samantha Byergo, Sam McJunkin, Tres Cozine, Evan Lenz, Terace Yeatts, Wayne Purves, Melissa Munden, Marilyn Dearsley, Tammy Byergo, David Hager, Sandi Spellman, Jeff Brown, Tyler Weaver, Marybeth Redmond, Pete Simpson, Kristi Ann Jacobson, and Eve Palay.
The plays will be fully staged in three shows at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 16 and Saturday, Aug. 17 (and also a 3 p.m. matinée Saturday, as well) at Bainbridge Performing Arts.
A new addition to the show this year, one which Stolee said the group plans to return next year, was a Meet the Playwrights event that was held earlier this year.
“It was a great idea,” Stolee said. “The playwrights felt honored. They were expressive, they talked about their plays, they talked about the technique of writing and it was a round robin, we had a panel discussion.
“Next year, we’re going to capitalize on that and we’re going to move it closer to the festival so it helps to really generate more interest in what the play festival has to offer,” he said.
Also new this year, set for October, is a playwriting workshop. Stolee said Island Theatre is bringing in a pro to teach an intimate course for those who, perhaps having been inspired by the festival, would like to refine their own skills, or maybe try writing plays for the first time.
Visit www.islandtheatre.org for updates, requirements and information about other Island Theatre programs.
The intensely local focus of the festival, Stolee said, is a large part of its unique appeal, and exciting more local writers to submit work would be a great achievement for the group.
“We’ve often talked about opening it to a wider audience, but so far we’ve never had any trouble getting people to write here — and to write good stuff,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone who does what we’re doing. This is a completely local showcase. All of the plays are written by people who have significant ties there. They may not live here anymore, but they grew up here, they have lived here, they work here, they have ties to Bainbridge and Kitsap County.
“We don’t take plays from Portland or even Seattle,” he added. “It’s a very localized thing. Everything else comes from here, it’s very homegrown. All of the actors are from here, the directors, the producers.”